Tips for schools on how to strengthen communication with parents/caregivers
During a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, strengthening communication, transparency and trust is key to proper containment measures.
During a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, strengthening communication, transparency and trust is key to proper containment measures. Communication can help in understanding and tackling fears, misconceptions; strengthening community participation in addressing faced challenges. A two-way communication will ensure that there is space to listen to concerns, feedback, myths and rumours about Covid-19 as well as communicating information about the virus.
It is hard for the public to distinguish scientific evidence and facts from less reliable sources of information. Communication between schools, parents/caregivers, students, and teachers is critical to ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of what needs to be done, by whom and how. In times of uncertainty, it’s important that parents continue to feel engaged with their children’s schools.
Key points for strengthening communication between schools and parents:
1. Assess communication needs
Assess the needs of parents and students in relation to COVID-19. Inquire about their preferred communication channels and frequency of communication as well as about the kind of support that parents and students feel is needed to be safe and to succeed. Results of such discussions can be used to tailor communication and engagement tools and approaches by ensuring they are appropriate and relevant and address parents/caregivers’ expectations.
2. Strengthen the use of different communication channels
Schools cannot rely on a single communication method to reach all homes with a given message; it is essential that a variety of strategies are adapted tailored to the needs of families and their schedules. Not all parents can be reached the same way, or interact the same way. When deciding which platform/method to use, the urgency of the message/the dynamic nature of the situation needs to be considered. Most importantly is how the most vulnerable families would be reached.
Some strategies to consider include:
- Online Parents conferences (Zoom, Skype, etc.) ;
- Phone calls;
- Messaging groups (WhatsApp);
- School website or the online conferencing platform;
- Social media platforms (Facebook).
Communications should be directed towards both fathers and mothers, even if, in general, the school communicates with only one of the parents.
3. Communicate clearly and coherently
It is very important to consistently and systematically communicate with parents, not just out of necessity. Set up clear and consistent communication mechanisms, a pattern of reaching out to parents, thus encouraging them to get involved and support their children’s activity at school. Communication can go beyond COVID-19, but COVID-19 can be the entry point to strengthen communication. It is also important for schools to ensure that all parents and students, including the most vulnerable, can access key information by ensuring that communication is developmentally appropriate and accessible for all students, including those with disabilities.
COVID-19 related Communication with parents and students can include:
- Up-to-date information about COVID-19 and measures taken by the school to reduce risks on students.
- Measures/actions expected from parents/caregivers and students.
- Providing advice on good health and hygiene practices. Promote everyday protective measures, describe how to stop the spread of COVID-19.
- Notify all students, staff and families of who to contact for questions and concerns related to COVID-19.
- Notify caregivers if a case is detected among students and staff, and solutions are proposed by the school to avoid further infection.
- Encouraging students to take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news and stories about COVID-19 to avoid feeling overwhelmed or stressed.
- Promoting healthy eating, exercising, getting sleep, and finding time to unwind.
- Encouraging parents and students to talk with people they trust about their concerns and how they are feeling.
- Inform parents/caregivers on how they can support learning.
- Keep caregivers aware of any change in the academic curriculum and school schedule.
- Informing parents about psychological support offered by the school.
- Encourage caregivers to immunize their children by following the national immunization schedule.
- Inform caregivers about the measures taken to ensure that the children with underlying health conditions can continue with their education (online or in schools).
- Inform parents about mechanisms for sharing their concerns with school staff including inviting parents to collaborative meetings where they can express their opinions and priorities.
- Encourage parents to create peer groups to discuss with each other issues and concerns.
4. Find the right tone
- Listen to parents and ask questions to get a better understanding of their behaviours, concerns, perceptions and intended actions about covid19 prevention.
- Be warm and positive, whether you’re communicating via email, text, or in person, be welcoming and positive and offer encouragement.
- Communicate often, make sure to communicate regularly, identify with the caregivers a feasible approach to communicate and inform.
- Foster a sense of trust, the basis of effective communication with parents starts with trust. It’s essential for parents to trust their children’s teachers. When speaking to parents, make sure they are assured that communication is confidential and that the main aim is the students’ best interests.
- One size does not fit all when it comes to parent-teacher communication. Find out what communication tools work best for parents and use them. In some cases, a combination of tools/approaches may be needed, to ensure every family is reached. Be mindful of the fact that families have different backgrounds, and beliefs.
- Make parents feel valuable by engaging them in their children education and acknowledging their involvement.
5. Promote information sharing
It is crucial to create clear and accessible feedback mechanisms for families to express their opinions, concerns and expectations. Once these mechanisms are set, ensure they function properly, to maintain trust and engagement.
Reinforce that caregivers should alert the school and health care authorities if someone in their home has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and that they should keep their child at home; emphasize that schools will provide adequate support when staying home, ensuring the privacy and non-stigmatization of those positively diagnosed with COVID-19.
Utilize parent-teacher (online) committees and other mechanisms to promote information sharing. Encourage parents to communicate often and openly with the school. Reiterate that schools would like to hear from parents.
6. Post signs in highly visible locations
It is important to communicate COVID-19 messages in all possible ways and forms. Signage can be placed on notice boards, in restrooms, entrances, classrooms, and other central locations. Ensure communication is developmentally appropriate and accessible for all students, including those with disabilities. If schools do not open or close again, other online communication channels should be used to reach out to students.
7. Reach vulnerable students and families
Schools need to think of what can be done to support: Vulnerable students, Students with underlying health conditions and Students at increased risk of contracting covid-19. Schools need to make sure they feel supported and students know they are still very much part of the school community.